It appeared as if a spell had been cast on the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador on Saturday, as the stadium that had been synonymous with free-scoring matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ suddenly provided the stage for a goalless encounter. The Netherlands bombarded Costa Rica’s penalty area without success for 120 minutes, during which Wesley Sneijder twice hit the woodwork to set Oranje fans on edge going into the decisive penalty shoot-out.

Dutch coach Louis van Gaal once again demonstrated his shrewd tactical expertise by replacing first choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul towards the end of the second half of extra time. The substitution proved to be another masterstroke by the 62-year-old, as the custodian went on to save two spot-kicks to earn the Netherlands a place in the semi-finals.

“We told Tim that he would be the better goalkeeper for a penalty shoot-out because he’s taller,” said Van Gaal. “We didn’t say anything to Cillessen because we didn’t want to interfere with his preparations or his concentration. However, there is no question whatsoever that Cillessen will be in the starting line-up again for the next match. It was just that in this case we felt Krul was the better option and he proved us right. He went the right way on every penalty.”

Unnerving strategy
“It’s surreal, I can’t describe it at the moment,” a delighted Krul told FIFA.com after fielding questions from countless television crews. “Seeing the boys run towards me: I’ve seen that so many times on TV after goalkeepers save penalties and win the game. That it’s me tonight in a World Cup quarter-final is something surreal and I don’t think it’ll sink in for a couple of days.”

The Newcastle United shot-stopper also revealed the secret to his penalty-saving success. “I watched them [Costa Rica] against Greece and studied them and I told the players that I knew where they were going to shoot to make them a bit nervous,” the 26-year-old said with a mischievous grin. “Maybe it worked. It happened before when I played against Frank Lampard: I told him that I knew and I saved it. I just tried that again. I’m so happy it worked today.”

Room for improvement
Needless to say, Krul’s team-mates were thrilled with the goalkeeper’s heroics. “Tim is amazing,” Dutch veteran Dirk Kuyt told FIFA.com. “It’s not easy to come on in the last minute of the game and face penalties. But we know that he is a very good penalty saver and the way he did it was amazing. He can be proud of himself and we can be proud of Tim. I think the whole country is proud of him.”

In the last four the Netherlands will meet Argentina, an attack-minded team that will not be content merely to wait for chances on the break, nor be as lenient in letting squandered opportunities go unpunished. “We created so many chances and normally our strikers only need one chance to score,” Kuyt continued. “But sometimes it just doesn’t happen in football. The best thing about tonight is that we never gave up; not during extra time and not at the penalties. We survived today and we’re in the semi-finals. In the next match we have to finish our chances.”

Should that encounter also go to penalties, the Netherlands’ now not-so-secret weapon will be ready again. “I’ll study Argentina as well,” Krul said. “We’ve been studying and planning what we’re going to do before every game with all the goalkeepers and the goalkeeping coach, so we’re going to do that again.” Argentina will be hoping it does not come to that.